David G. Smith plays music during a jam session following Ellis Kell's funeral service in December. Smith is in the lineup to play at the "Peace, Love & the Joy of Music: Ellis Kell Family Benefit Concert" scheduled for Saturday at the RiverCenter. 

At the Peace, Love & the Joy of Music: Ellis Kell Family Benefit Concert slated for Saturday at the RiverCenter, Davenport, dozens of area musicians will take the stage to honor Kell, the Quad-City icon who died in December.

There are bands on the lineup that Kell jammed with a handful of times and others that Kell inspired from afar.

“He touched a lot of musicians and a lot of people in the Quad-Cities,” said Bret Dale, director of programming and education at the River Music Experience, or RME, where Kell worked for 12 years. “It was impossible to choose who was going to play the concert, because so many wanted to honor him.”

There’s one band that is, perhaps, feeling Kell’s loss the most: the Ellis Kell Band.

"I don't know how you play in the Ellis Kell Band without Ellis Kell," Terry Hanson, a longtime drummer in the group, said. "It was his band.”

Hanson has done it only once: during Kell's funeral service at the Adler Theatre on Dec. 21. And he'll do it again on Saturday. 

"It was surreal," he said. "I did a gig with Ellis four days before he died, and now I'm playing without him. All these musicians are backstage hugging and crying. And we're all waiting for Ellis to come out on stage with us.

"That day, I think everyone pictured Ellis up there playing."

Kell formed the group in 1990 and dozens of musicians took turns playing in it over the years. Hanson also played with Kell in the Whoozdads, an acoustic quartet that is set to perform on Saturday.

"Whenever he asked me to play, it was a no-brainer," he said. "It's a drummer's dream to play with him."

John Burchett plans to take the stage Saturday to honor his best friend of the past 25 years.

"It was like losing a brother," Burchett, a member of the Ellis Kell Band and the Whoozdads, said. "We all kind of grew old together playing music and getting up there and having a good time.

“We’re trying to celebrate his memory the best way we know, and that is to keep playing."

Other acts in the lineup include the Way Down Wanderers, The Candymakers, Ernie Peniston, Hal Reed, The Curtis Hawkins Band and the RME Camp Kids Jam.

The goal, Dale said, is to raise money for the Kell family, including his wife, Kristi, daughter Ali and grandchildren Karli and Jackson. 

“We want to be there for a family who helped the Q-C community so much,” he said. “The number one reason I loved Ellis so much is how much he loved his family. Music came second, which is saying a lot because he loved music more than anyone I know.”


Amanda Hancock is a reporter covering food, arts and entertainment in the Quad-Cities (and beyond).